Lewis Hamilton equalled Michael Schumacher’s record of seven world championships on Sunday by winning the Turkish Grand Prix and said afterwards that he hoped his success as a black man in an almost exclusively white sport would act as inspiration to children everywhere.
An emotional Hamilton, who remains the sport’s only black driver, went on to describe what a hard journey it had been to become the most successful driver in the history of Formula One. “It has been so tough. Tough doesn’t even describe how hard it has been,” he said. “When I was younger I didn’t have anybody in the sport that looked like me, so it was easy to think that it was not a possibility. You don’t see any black people on TV in F1 one so hopefully this sends a message to the kids that are watching.
“They can see that it doesn’t matter where you come from, or your background. Where you don’t see someone of the same background or ethnicity or religion as you, then create your own path.” Hamilton has been at the forefront of the anti-racism cause this season and said he would try to ensure his success made a difference.
“I promise you I am not going to stop fighting for change,” he wrote on Instagram. With F1 expected to race in Azerbaijan, Bahrain and now also Saudi Arabia next season Hamilton suggested he was going to hold the sport more accountable for the regimes of the countries it visited. “We realise we’ve got to face and not ignore the human rights issues in the countries that we go to, not just 20 years, 30 years from now, but now,” he said.
On track the win and the record had been a moving moment for Hamilton who admitted he had been in tears as the enormity of his achievement hit him.
“Very rarely do I lose control of my emotions,” he said. “I was thinking about my whole career. When I crossed the line I burst into tears on that in-lap and then I couldn’t get out of the car. I just couldn’t believe it.
“I didn’t want the visor to come up and you could all see me cry. I said I would never let you see me cry, but it was too much.” Many figures across the sporting world paid tribute to Hamilton’s achievement. The four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel spoke to him immediately after the race and acknowledged Hamilton was the best driver of this era.
“I told him it is special for us because we are witnessing history being made today,” he said. “You can’t compare eras but it doesn’t matter, every era has its driver and Lewis is certainly the greatest of our era. Today was a good example, it wasn’t his race to win and he still won it.”
Damon Hill, world champion with Williams in 1996, felt Hamilton will go on to even greater heights. “It’s staggering, it’s totally mind-blowing,” he said. “To year-in, year-out deliver that level of performance. He looked good when he arrived, we thought this kid is good and he is not done yet. He is going to clock a ton, 100 GP victories is easily on the cards, and another world championship is potentially there.
Johnny Herbert, who competed in F1 between 1989 and 2000 and against the greats of the modern era, insisted he should be ranked as one of the best drivers ever.
“He is the best I have seen,” he said. “He is one of the greats, if not the greatest. From Ayrton Senna, to Alain Prost, to Michael Schumacher to Mika Hakkinen, all those guys. His raw ability to get the best out the car all the time, very much like Ayrton, is mighty impressive.”
Herbert believes Hamilton now occupies a rarefied place alongside the very top sportspeople of this generation. “It’s like Tiger Woods, he drew people in, it didn’t matter that he kept on winning, people loved him winning and that’s what Lewis has got. Similar to Roger Federer in tennis, they are very rare characters and when they are there you have to be in awe and to enjoy it.”
Rio Ferdinand tweeted that Hamilton was: “The greatest sportsman this country has produced – no doubts”. Eliud Kipchoge, the marathon world-record holder, posted: “Congratulations for winning your 7th World Title! Longevity is equal to experience, this is what inspires the world!”